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Excerpt: "On November 4, Denton, Texas, became the first city in the state to ban the process of hydraulic fracturing ('fracking') when 59 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of the initiative."

George P. Bush. (photo: AP)
George P. Bush. (photo: AP)

Bush Family and Its Inner Circle Play Central Role in Lawsuit Against Denton, Texas, Fracking Ban

By Steve Horn, DeSmogBlog

07 November 14


n November 4, Denton, Texas, became the first city in the state to ban the process of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) when 59 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of the initiative. It did so in the heart of the Barnett Shale basin, where George Mitchell — the “father of fracking” — drilled the first sample wells for his company Mitchell Energy.

As promised by the oil and gas industry and by Texas Railroad Commission commissioner David Porter, the vote was met with immediate legal backlash. Both the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGA) filed lawsuits in Texas courts within roughly 12 hours of the vote taking place, the latest actions in the aggressive months-long campaign by the industry and the Texas state government to fend off the ban.

The Land Office and TXOGA lawsuits, besides making similar legal arguments about state law preempting local law under the Texas Constitution, share something else in common: ties to former President George W. Bush and the Bush family at large.

In the Land Office legal case, though current land commissioner Jerry Patterson signed off on the lawsuit, he will soon depart from office. And George Prescott Bush — son of former Florida Governor and prospective 2016 Republican Party presidential nominee Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush — will take his place.

George P. Bush won his land commissioner race in a landslide, gaining 61 percent of the vote. Given the cumbersome and lengthy nature of litigation in the U.S., it appears the Land Office case will have only just begun by the time Bush assumes the office.

The TXOGA legal complaint was filed by a powerful team of attorneys working at the firm Baker Botts, the international law firm named after the familial descendants of James A. Baker III, a partner at the firm.

Baker III served as chief-of-staff under both President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush, Secretary of State under George H.W. Bush and as a close advisor to President George W. Bush on the U.S. occupation of Iraq. He gave George P. Bush a $10,000 donation for his campaign for his race for land commissioner.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005, which exempts the oil and gas industry from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act for fracking, is seen by critics as the legacy of ashes left behind by the George W. Bush Administration.

Yet almost a decade later, the two lawsuits filed against Denton show the Bush oil and gas legacy clearly lives on and stretches from the state where the fracking industry was born all the way to Iraq and back again.

Jeb and George P. Bush: Fracking Investors

Besides sharing blood as father and son, Jeb Bush and George P. Bush also operate inside the world of fracking finance.

Jeb works at the firm Britton Hill Holdings LLC, while George Prescott works at St. Augustine Capital Partners and served a short-lived stint on the board of directors of the Midland, Texas-based fracking exploration and production company, Arbella Exploration from February through September.

“Its first investments have been tied to the exploitation of shale oil and gas in the U.S.,” explained an article in Bloomberg. “Britton Hill raised more than $40 million for its first fund in May 2013, according to a private placement notice filed with the SEC at the time.”

Britton Hill has investments in a company fracking in the Marcellus Shale basin and another that owns a fleet of gas carriers seeking to export U.S. propane to Asia. Mitch Jones, common resources director for Food and Water Watch, wrote a blog post critical of Jeb Bush and Britton Hill the day the Bloomberg article came out.

“These relationships, where politicians move between Washington and Wall Street, between government and finance and resource exploitation, is another reason why we need to get money out of politics,” wrote Jones. “It’s these sorts of relationships that corrupt our system and provide the permanent political-business elite with their hold on our government.”

The critique promulgated by Jones about Jeb Bush could just as easily apply to his son, who recently said his father is “more than likely” to run for president in 2016.

According to multiple press accounts and an independent DeSmogBlog review of Texas campaign finance data, George P. Bush took hundreds of thousands of dollars from the oil and gas industry in his land commissioner electoral race. He also received the endorsement of the Texas Oil and Gas Association's political action committee, the plaintiff for the other lawsuit.

“George P. Bush fully appreciates the role a strong domestic energy industry plays in ensuring our state and our nation’s prosperity and security,” Robert L. Looney, president of the Texas Oil and Gas PAC stated in endorsing him. “Mr. Bush is committed to advancing public policy that ensures Texas oil and gas producers can power our state forward and create good-paying jobs.”

Like Britton Hill Holdings, St. Augustine Capital Partners also invests in fracking, according to its website.

“St. Augustine has participated in partnerships with seasoned operators to develop drilling programs in the Marcellus and Permian Basins, in addition to offering financial advisory services for those opportunities,” St. Augustine explains.

“St. Augustine provides business development for dynamic middle-market service companies ranging from liquid storage construction to logistical operations,” the firm further details. “Additionally, St. Augustine has participated as a general partner for numerous oil and gas exploration and production related projects in a variety of geological formations.”

The firm also “has worked closely with” the Texas Railroad Commission, according to its website.

In the months leading up to the Denton vote, the Railroad Commission situated itself as the industry's go-to spin machine in the attempt to discredit activists fighting for a fracking ban. Railroad commissioner David Porter, who formerly worked as an oil and gas industry accountant, was also one of the first entities out of the block to say an affirmative ban vote in Denton would receive ruthless contestation by the Texas government.

Serving as land commissioner in Texas is often a resume padder before running for governor, an article about George P. Bush published in GreenWire explained.

“[The] Texas land commissioner [is] a powerful post that controls the state's oil and gas contracts,” the article explains. “Every land commissioner in the past three decades has gone on to run for lieutenant governor or governor.”

Baker Botts: From Texas to Iraq and Back

One of the co-counsel for Baker Botts in its lawsuit against the City of Denton is Evan Young, part of a powerful legal cadre that includes former Texas Supreme Court Justice Thomas Phillips. Phillips testified in front of the Denton City Council in July in opposition to the Denton fracking ban proposal on behalf of TXOGA (see video below, starting at 6:25).

Phillips also concurrently works on the legal defense team for former Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry — 2012 Republican Party presidential nominee and former chair of the powerful Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission — who faces state-level felony charges in Travis County for abuse of power.

According to his Baker Botts biography, Young formerly clerked for the conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and worked as legal counsel in the Office of the Attorney General under Attorneys General Alberto R. Gonzales and Michael B. Mukasey from 2006 through the end of the presidency of George W. Bush.

“While on the Attorney General’s staff, he accepted a detail to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq,” explains his Baker Botts biographical sketch, “where he was the Deputy Rule of Law Coordinator. In that position he worked to assist the Iraqi government in its efforts to strengthen its legal regime.”

Among the legal regimes Baker Botts helped create while Young was still working for the U.S. Department of Justice was one helping oil flow out of the ground in occupied Iraq and into the U.S. As of 2012, the U.S. is one of the world's biggest importers of Iraqi crude, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA).

An article published by American Lawyer in 2007 explains that Baker Botts helped cut a controversial legal deal between Hunt Oil and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

That deal gave Hunt the right to explore oil in Kurdistan, the first U.S. company given the green light to do so. The Iraqi Constitution that the U.S. helped write says making such a move is illegal.

“Not only was the deal made in a war zone, but Iraq is still working on oil resources legislation,” wrote American Lawyer. “Under the October 2005 Iraqi Constitution, local oil is owned by 'the Iraqi people.' “

Ray Hunt, CEO of Hunt Oil Company, gave George P. Bush $25,000 for his campaign according to Texas campaign finance data. And the Baker Botts Amicus Fund gave him $2,000 worth of donations, with Young and Phillips each donating $500 to get George P. Bush elected.

In late July, Iraq's Oil Ministry launched a lawsuit against the Kurdish Regional Government in a U.S. District Court in Houston for what it says is a million barrels of illegally stolen oil exported out of Kurdistan — which is still sitting on a tanker called the United Kalyvryta 60 miles off the coast of Texas in Galveston Bay.

The Oil Ministry pointed to the Iraqi Constitution in its lawsuit as the legal precedent.

In March 2014, just months before the Iraqi government brought the lawsuit, Baker Botts published a legal memo on the legal and geopolitical ramifications of Kurdish oil exports.

Constitutional, “Big Government” Double Standards?

Though Baker Botts cited the Texas Constitution in its lawsuit against the City of Denton, the Iraqi Constitution was disposable for the firm and its client Hunt Oil when it came to procuring oil exploration and exportation rights in Kurdistan.

Baker Botts' counsel also seems to have brushed aside concerns by both the U.S. and Iraqi government that the extra legal maneuvering for oil exploration and production rights in the area would create regional instability, the blowback of which is now visible in the form of the ascendant and lethal Islamic State.

Further, Sharon Wilson, an organizer for Earthworks — an environmental group that campaigned for the fracking ban in Denton — pointed to a quote from George P. Bush back in October. “Enough…big government solutions to our problems,” George P. Bush said at an October event his father Jeb Bush also spoke at.

“Denton residents, not politicians, directly spoke in overwhelming numbers that they don’t want fracking in their city,” Wilson told DeSmogBlog. “Overturning the will of the people by government fiat is the very definition of big government. George P. is going to have to put his money where his mouth is or decide if his mouth is where his money comes from.” your social media marketing partner


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+40 # Ken Halt 2014-11-07 20:26
The 1% and the political toadies that lick their boots LOVE big gov: the big gov that shovels lots of cash into their corporate pockets through subsidies and tax vacations, the big gov that responds to lobbyists $$$ instead of We The People and thus is easily dominated by them, the big gov that throws money at any specter of terrorism, the big, corporate gov that stomps the common people that might get in its way by demanding clean water and air for their communities. It's ironic this is happening in TX and I hope Dentonites prevail in the fight for their community, but after 35 years of conservative ascendancy the deck is stacked against them at the federal and state level.
+4 # HowardMH 2014-11-08 11:08
Until there are thousands of really, really pissed off people at the State Capital all at the same time – with base ball bats, or 2 x 2s) raising some serious hell against the Lunatics, and idiots absolutely nothing is ever, ever going to happen to these totally bought and paid for by the richest 50 people in the world that are becoming more and more powerful with each passing rigged election thanks to the stupid people.

So, scream, yell, chant, stomp your feet, and beat your drums so the media can show it on the evening news, while all of those who can actually do anything about it are home counting their donation money and laughing all the way to the bank.
+8 # chomper2 2014-11-08 13:32
Right on Ken Halt, but you missed one: the big government that sends thousands of American young men and women to be killed or maimed while providing 'security' for big oil. That one really sticks in my craw, for I was once (1950) one of those too young to know I wasn't really fighting to defend my country but rather the egos and profits of people I didn't even know existed. It took many years and much reading to discover the truth, a truth never to be known to kids I grew up with and whose bones still lie in north Korea.
+31 # Farafalla 2014-11-07 23:44
This is an awesome story. George P. is talked about as in line with the dynasty. The petroleum establishment is the enemy of having any future on this planet. The Bushes are elbow deep in it.
+20 # fredboy 2014-11-08 08:58
Of course.

Oil, not blood, runs through their veins.

And natural gas seeps out their asses.

They could care less for the dumb minions who continue to support them and vote for their evil policies.
+9 # Ken Halt 2014-11-08 09:44
"...natural gas seeps out of their asses." Your double entendre is true and funny!! Thank you for starting my day off with a chuckle.
+3 # chomper2 2014-11-08 13:41
Yes fred, " for their evil policies" ...and die in foreign lands for the continual exploitation of those lands and their peoples.
+9 # politicfix 2014-11-08 11:33
The Bushes and their cronies.... Our very own axis of evil!
+2 # reiverpacific 2014-11-08 11:55
This lot can be summed up en masse by the Bard of Stratford's Mark Antony's words, "The evil that men do lives on after them, the good is oft' interred with their bones" or pretty close.
Mind you there isn't much good across the whole deeply filthy, hubris-drenched Bush die-nasty to be interred as "Their bones are marrowless, their blood is cold, they hath no speculation in those eyes which they doth glare with!"
Ergo, their remains, if not reduced to ashes, could be contained within the average bird-feeder.
+4 # angelfish 2014-11-08 11:57
The "Evil-Doers" are on the march, folks. We knew this would happen, the poor schmucks who believed their Bull-Puckey will be taken in, over and over again. As Oil Tycoons it's what they DO, however, I never thought I'd ever live to see the day when a wealthy and privileged family like the Bush Family would EVER support something that will harm, not only the environment but the people and wildlife in the vicinity! It's hard not to say "I told you so" but, you were warned. THIS is what happens when you cut off your nose to spite your face. Everyone who hates President Obama forgot that he is a Lame Duck, and for all intents and purposes OUT of the equation! So, the ONLY ones who have been hurt by ALL the misplaced anger at this President, is US! Best get busy and start planning for Election Day 2016. We can't afford another dabacle like THIS one!

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